Four Simple Ways to Go Solar

From baby steps to big steps, tapping the sun's energy is easier than ever

| January/February 2008


With well-placed overhangs and shades, south-facing windows made of low-E glass can passively heat your home in winter and insulate against summer heat.

Photo By Michael Shopenn

There are lots of ways to use the sun to power your home. Though a large investment, solar panels add value to a house and profit homeowners in the end. Even if you’re not ready to take this big step toward renewable energy, you can still use this natural resource—it can be as easy as planting a garden or shading your windows. Read on for tips to go solar at any level. 

1. Grow solar.

Any time you grow a plant, you’re taking advantage of solar power. Converting sunlight into energy, plants produce the fruits, vegetables and blooms that provide us with nutrition and beauty. Go one step farther and make solar energy part of your home by creating a roof garden—or green roof—on your workshop, shed or doghouse. Green roofs take advantage of rain water, can help control indoor temperatures and add outdoor space to your house. Jon Alexander, a builder who put a green roof on his garage in Seattle, raves about his view of it from the house. “I love watching the changing colors of the plants and all the birds that visit,” he says.

2. Go passive.

A passive solar house is almost too easy; no moving parts are needed. “Passive solar uses the energy of the sun for space heating,” says Kelly Lerner, architect and co-author of Natural Remodeling for the Not-So-Green House (Lark Books, 2006). “You just need to design your house according to your climate and your heating needs.”

A home’s thermal mass—any thick, heavy material that holds sunlight, such as concrete, tiles or layers of sheet rock—absorbs the sun’s heat during the day and releases it slowly throughout the night.

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